I write this piece with some hesitancy and doubt, being only too aware of how little I know about the subject. Yet I feel that these present times are calling for a new type of eurythmy and that it is vital for all our futures that eurythmy should evolve to meet a new set of needs. It has often puzzled me as to why, among the various initiatives brought by Rudolf Steiner, only eurythmy has so far not been able to gain some measure of mainstream acceptance – why is this?
Before looking at some of the reasons why this might be so, it should be explained for those who are not yet familiar with eurythmy, that it is an art of movement developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20thcentury, so as to create a visible expression of the sounds, forms and dynamics that the human larynx makes while interacting with the environment during the activity of speaking and or singing. Why the larynx? It is because the larynx, like the foot or the hand (as we know from reflexology), contains within itself the whole map of the human being. You can see a performance of eurythmy from the stage of the Goetheanum in Dornach, here on YouTube.
In eurythmy the inner qualities of speech and song are made visible, and not the feelings evoked by what is heard. The performer becomes both the speech and the music so that the hidden inner life within them is revealed. This inner life is found in our etheric body.1
So eurythmy is thus an art of etheric movement, which as far as I am aware, makes the whole concept of eurythmy quite unique as a form of movement in the West. Steiner first developed eurythmy in 1912 and, like other developments he introduced (eg Waldorf education, anthroposophical medicine, and the birth of anthroposophy itself), it came about through a question brought to him by someone else. The questioner in this case was Clara Smits, who was looking for a career in movement for her daughter, Lori. Although Lori was still in her teens, Steiner began to introduce her to a new art of movement through exercises and imaginative pictures.
It soon became clear that eurythmy could be not only an art but also a health-promoting activity, and specific exercises for a wide variety of medical conditions were developed and came to be known as ‘curative eurythmy’or ‘eurythmy therapy’.
In 1919 the first Waldorf School opened and eurythmy was introduced as an integral part of the curriculum. Like the rest of the curriculum introduced by Steiner, the eurythmy lessons develop through the school in tune with the development of the children.
Since it was first created just over 100 years ago, eurythmy has developed into four main areas:
- As a performance art
- As a pedagogical activity within Steiner Waldorf schools
- As a curative therapy
- As Applied Eurythmy 2
I first came across eurythmy when I was a parent at my daughter’s Steiner school and saw performances of it by pupils and sometimes by teachers and/or visiting eurythmy troupes. Later, when I started to work at the school, I also became aware of curative eurythmy to help individual pupils. Later still, long after I had left the school, I was fortunate enough to receive curative eurythmy for some health issues of my own.
It’s curious how topics for this blog come about. I had no intention of writing about eurythmy until I received an email from a dear friend, Anne Davison, who said that she had for some reason felt moved to send me an article written about eurythmy by a friend of hers in New York. In my reply to thank her for the article, I said that: “… my view of eurythmy as a performing art is that it is severely hampered by two main factors: i) that for anyone who, like me, does not have an understanding derived from years of study and/or experience, it requires truly inspired performers if it is not to become a touch boring as a visual spectacle; and ii) that it really is time for eurythmists to evolve their art beyond the wearing of floaty coloured silk garments and to start to engage with the more visceral issues of today.”
I added that: “I have had a little bit of experience of curative eurythmy and I would like to have much more of it; I think it is a very profound and truly valuable addition to the healing repertoire.”
Anne replied to say that she agreed with me; she had gone to Dornach in the 1980s and had seen some performances of eurythmy. She thought that “men in floaty garments on their tippy toes was not such a good look. And, at a time when I was bent on ‘earth’ consciousness, I thought eurythmy was too ‘high’…(spiritual?).”
This accorded with my own responses to stage performances of eurythmy, and also reminded me of one performance that by contrast I had really enjoyed. It was at my daughter’s school and was by a group of boys from Class 12, who had been working with a newly-arrived eurythmy teacher to devise their own performance based on Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. While a speaker spoke out the words, these teenage boys moved rhythmically, thumping the ground with wooden staves as though to summon the earth to witness them. It was powerful and moving, demonstrating how to harness aggressive young male energy in the service of a high ideal – truly eurythmy for our times. As we applauded and cheered at the end of the performance, we heard a teacher behind us say: “That’s not real eurythmy.”
It was interesting that the performance which I and many others had found so inspiring, vital and relevant was decried by some teachers as “not being real eurythmy”. A short while later, the eurythmy teacher who had devised this production with the boys left the school, no doubt having been made aware that her approach to eurythmy was not welcome there.
That this kind of subtle bullying was a wider phenomenon, by those who thought they knew how eurythmy should and should not be done, came home to me when I read the following in Dean Pollard’s blog about his experiences at Dornach:
“During the breaks and after a eurythmy performance, the greater portion of the audience and especially the eurythmy students and teachers, were all in conflict and discussion around what they witnessed in the eurythmy performance. ‘Was that really eurythmy or not?’, or ‘It was way too athletic to be eurythmy’ or: ‘Too astral to be true etheric movement.’ Get real, people! For god’s sake, stop and look at that behavior. If so many anthroposophists spend so much time disagreeing about what is Eurythmy or etheric movement, how the hell do you expect the rest of the world to understand it?….Do some of you even care if anyone else on this planet has a grounded experience of Rudolf Steiner’s work?”
Later in the same piece, Dean says:
“If there is one thing that my experiences as a eurythmist have taught me, it is that as soon as human movements tend toward dance-like, physically strong or athletic expression, the typically trained eurythmist will make statements and claims that what they are seeing is not ‘etheric movement’ but ‘physical movement’, or that what they are witnessing is ‘etherically bruising’. (…)
What is passed on as ‘etheric movement’ by eurythmy training centers can be easily summed up as, learning how to lead your movements from almost entirely the head and upper torso areas. Sports and athletic movements, due to the sheer physics of the activity, must utilize and lead from the lower movement center and in concordance with the torso and head, thus inhabiting, articulating and using the entire human body as an instrument of expression. That is the paradox … it has become an acceptable, common practice to access the trunk (lower movement center) only during the naughty humorous portion of a eurythmy performance, but not encouraged to be developed any further by eurythmy students as part of their training.”
The floaty clothes, the subtle snobbery and the exclusiveness builds a picture of the shadow side of anthroposophy that one comes across occasionally. It is found in those anthroposophical enterprises that have ignored Karl Konig’s advice that “Tradition is nurturing the flame, not worshipping the ashes.” It is the same phenomenon seen in too many Steiner Waldorf schools right now, which have failed to evolve and develop their practice to meet the needs of the times – and as a result are facing severe problems.
Why I find this to be so relevant brings us back to my friend Anne Davison, who is a highly-developed channel in her own right. This is an excerpt from the April 2019 channelling on her website:
“The etheric body – the first layer in the human energy field – is disturbed. Everyone feels they are being prodded and cajoled and disturbed, as though somebody or something is poking into their etheric field.
The way to think of the current times is that the earth’s etheric field is being nudged and prodded, cajoled by universal energies that wish to destabilise the earth, destabilise individuals, in order now for a new etheric to take its place on planet earth. There really is a sense that everything has wobbled and changed and disturbed the status quo.
When this status quo has been disturbed in the etheric around individuals, and around the earth, it does have a huge effect; it feels so uncomfortable. And this discomfort makes you feel that things have to change. The disturbance tells you that we can’t carry on like this; there has to be a different way of doing so many things. And it’s urgent. (…)
Values and structures within society, were set up on old understandings; on a hierarchical (and monetary) system where there could never be equality, where certain people had value and others didn’t. This must change. Equality has to be universal.
When the etheric realigns, resettles its new form and influence, individually and collectively, it changes our understanding of how we are in the world. We will feel comfortable in this new world, in the new order where there are no anomalies, and no exceptions and no ‘specials’. We can live our lives in the most productive, caring, understanding and accepting way, with no special religions or companies or people telling us what to do.
In the coming weeks and months the realisation that there is no consensus for the old politics, the old monetary system, the old work system, will be a revelation to many, many people who will truly be relieved not to be on the treadmill of the old regime. They will realise in some way that this is what they have been waiting for. A conviction to change the hearts and minds of other people in a new recognition of what it is to be human on planet earth.”
I started this piece by outlining my doubts about expressing views on something of which I have far too little knowledge. I’m also conscious of the hard struggle that eurythmists endure to keep their art going in the face of lack of wider recognition, limited financial resources and public incomprehension. I also have my own positive experiences of the very real benefits of curative eurythmy. So what I am saying here is not said to discourage eurythmists on their difficult path but on the contrary to encourage them to find new ways to communicate and celebrate the vital contribution that eurythmy can make in these times when the etheric is shifting for all of us. Floaty coloured silks won’t cut it any more…
1 According to Steiner, the etheric body is essentially an energy body that contains and forms the physical. It is this etheric body which maintains the physical body’s form until death. Next to the etheric body is the astral body, which provides us with awareness and self-awareness, our emotions and our feelings and intentions. Then comes the ego, the immortal and inalienable core of a human being, which goes with us from one incarnation to the next. When we go to sleep at night, the physical and etheric bodies remain in our bed, while the astral body and ego go into the spiritual world for rest and inspiration and remain there until we wake up, when they re-enter the physical and etheric bodies.
2 “Applied Eurythmy is the application of the principles and elements of Artistic, Pedagogical, and Therapeutic Eurythmy into an individual’s work and leisure activities. Whether you use a shovel or a ball, jog or sweep, drive or ride, bringing moments of focused attention to everyday habitual movement patterns in the light of Applied Eurythmy can engender a natural reverence, respect, and playfulness to your connection with the universal in and around you.” (Definition from Dean Pollard’s blog.)